Over the past 18 months the UK metal scene has spawned a wealth of bands pushing the boundaries of heavy music. If you’re a fan of brutal music, it’s an exciting time to be part of the UK scene again. One of the bands heading up this new breed of heaviness are London shredders Harbinger who have just dropped their jaw-dropping new mini-album A Letter to Anguish (ALTA).
Featuring new vocalist, Dilan Alves, now seemed like a great time to catch up with the band to chat about the changes, the EP and, of course, their thoughts on the new wave of UK metal bands. We chatted to guitarists Ben Sutherland and Charlie Griffiths, but before you read what the pair had to say, make sure you check out the mini-album here:
Thanks for your time. It seems like there is a mixture of relief and happiness now the excellent EP is finally out?
Charlie Griffiths: “Our pleasure. Thanks for having us. There is definitely a lot of happiness. We’ve put a lot of time and energy into making this new record and it feels so good to get it out into the public domain and see what everyone thinks. We worked on this new release behind the scenes during the pandemic so I guess in some ways it has been a bit of relief to release it, but mainly we feel excited. The new tracks seem to be well received and a great welcome to Dilan.”
Ben Sutherland: “Yes, I agree with Charlie, we are all absolutely overjoyed to have it out in the world now. It’s great to be able to take all of these new songs to the stage, they are really fun to play and after working on them for so long it is very cathartic to be able to smash them out with the rest of the lads.”
Talk us through the process for the EP as, from reading into it, it feels like these songs have been ready to go for a while now?
Sutherland: “Yeah the pandemic really gave us the chance to experiment with a lot of different aspects of the release that we might not have been able to otherwise. We self-recorded all of the guitar and bass tracks rather than go to a studio like we have previously, and we loved that level of control that it gave us: we would spend so much time fiddling with just one section where previously we would have been watching the clock! We still enlisted some friends to help us record other parts though: drums were recorded with Stu McKay at Studio 6 and vocals were recorded at Floodgate Audio with long time collaborator of the band, Meyrick De La Fuente.
He also gave me some really valuable help and tips when it came to orchestration for the record too, which is something that I had so much more time to fiddle with because of the pandemic and the DIY approach we took.”
Griffiths: “Oh yeah, absolutely. The six songs on the record were chosen from a huge list of demos. I think we had about 30 odd demos before we started narrowing down candidates for the new record. The planning for the new record started around February/March 2020, which was not long after Dilan officially joined us behind the scenes. We started tweaking and finalizing the tracks around summer 2020 and started recording them in May 2021. It was a long process but we had a lot of things we wanted to experiment with for this release, and of course, we wanted to get it right for Dilan’s first release with us.
The first single for the release was ready back in July 2021, but we had to delay the release because some things moved slower than others. It’s just part of the process. It’s good to have a plan but you have to be prepared to have a contingency and be somewhat flexible. We were very excited and relieved to start the release cycle though! In some ways, we couldn’t wait any longer.”
A Letter To Anguish is the first to feature new vocalist Dilan. Tell us a bit about Dilan and what he brings to Harbinger.
Griffiths: “Dilan has been a friend (and a fan) of the band for a while now. We first met him back in 2016 at one of our shows in London, which was his first metal show in England I believe. He’s originally from Portugal.
Dilan brings a new flare and approach to the Harbinger vocals and lyrics which has been perfect for our next evolution. We’ve been able to experiment more with vocal styles and include some clean singing as well as the variety of metal vocal styles that he is great at. Dilan has been a great addition to the band behind the scenes since he joined and we feel like we’re only going to get stronger.”
Sutherland: “We love Dilan to bits. He brings so much energy to us, on stage and off, that has made us all much more excited about the future of the band than we were before starting to make this record. Losing Thom (Gardener) was hard, especially at a critical point on the debut album cycle, but we are back at full strength and ready to take on whatever comes our way in the future!”
How far into ALTA was he brought in and what made him the perfect fit for the band?
Sutherland: “Dilan was involved for the whole of the ALTA process, which was great because it meant that he could really put his own personality and style into the songs, not just put his vocals onto tracks that were already finished. It was great having so much input from him, and I think it’s led to our best songs yet.”
Griffiths: “Yeah, Dilan joined behind the scenes back in February 2020, not long after we returned from our UK tour with Nekrogoblikon. We pretty much got straight to work once he joined, so Dilan was involved during the whole ALTA process.
Being a friend, fan, and an incredibly talented vocalist and lyricist made it a no-brainer for us. We also thought he could bring the energy we needed as a frontman. He is yet to disappoint!”
When Dilan joined the band, you talked about covering new ground together. How do you think the Harbinger’s sound has changed with Dilan joining the band?
Griffiths: “With A Letter To Anguish we wanted to experiment more with different styles of vocals, but also bring in different styles and musical influences to our songs. We definitely feel like there are a lot of different vibes in these tracks compared to our previous records, but at the same time, we feel like it’s still very much Harbinger.
I guess in some ways we feel that our sound has matured and it’s more focused on each track in itself, rather than where it would fit into a bigger work. We focused very hard on making sure each one of these tracks was a great song that had hooks and sections that people were going to remember, shout back at us and get loose to live.”
Sutherland: “I think that with Dilan on board we are ready to take on anything that comes our way. He is so driven as a person, but also such a versatile vocalist that we can fit into any opportunity that might arise. As far as the sound changing, I think it is more a sum of all the parts of the band now, rather than on previous records where songwriting processes might have been a bit more removed from the band as a whole. For previous releases, often Charlie or I would finish a whole song and bring it to the band, whereas with Dilan, the songwriting process is much more collaborative.”
It would be fair to say then that the lockdown gave you a bit of a chance to sit down, regroup, and look at your sound. How has your vision changed for the band now?
Griffiths: “Yes, I think that’s exactly what happened. During the lockdowns, we would have Zoom meetings discussing our plans and developments of the tracks, artworks, video ideas, merch, etc. And when we could get together outside of lockdowns we would have meetings at one of our houses to listen to the tracks and refine them. The last couple of years has definitely given us the time to reflect, prepare and move forward.
I don’t think the vision for the band has changed much. We’re still Harbinger and we’re still ready to keep grinding and moving up the ladder! If anything we’re pumped, prepared, and ready to take flight.”
Sutherland: “Yep, definitely a chance to regroup and look at what kind of music we enjoy playing the most… we’re still going to keep doing our thing though and just write music that we love!”
Looking down the tracks there seems to be some personal inspiration to tracks like the title track and “Guiltless” and also some rage-releasing on tracks like “Hate File.” Generally speaking, could you talk us through some of the themes inspiring Harbinger on this new record?
Griffiths: “Yeah there’s a lot of personal inspiration in the lyrics for the new record. Dilan’s written about some personal experiences and feelings, but also he takes on some of the issues in the world right now. Some inspiration also came from other members, but Dilan took those ideas and fleshed them out lyrically. I think this band is a great outlet for all of us. Our music can come from positive or negative energy and it’s a great way for all of us to release and channel emotions and energy.”
Sutherland: “I totally agree with Charlie there. We feel like we have the freedom to write about anything that comes to us in this band, and that’s what Harbinger is all about: expressing ourselves in any way we like! I’m so happy to be part of a group that has that freedom.”
Going back to what we talked about earlier on, the EP is now out, is there more material hanging around that hasn’t been used yet and, if so, what are your plans for a full album?
Sutherland: “Yep there’s loads of material that never got used, as we said earlier we ended up with 30 odd demos, but I’m not sure how much of that will be revisited; we are always moving forward. I’ll probably go back and deep dive for some riffs here and there, but generally, I’m looking forward to collaborating on some new materials with the lads! I’ve got some ideas down already, but we haven’t fully got to work on the second album just yet, but watch this space!”
Griffiths: “Oh yeah! We have so many more demos to explore and work on, and we keep on writing more too. So I think the process will be similar to this one. We’ll sit down, see what we like and what we would like to take forward and build from, but also keep the door open to develop new ideas. One of the tracks, ‘Guile,’ got written and added into the mix at the very last minute because we all loved the song idea so much we just had to include it on the ALTA record. So something similar might happen again. I believe we’re planning to release a full album next and we’re ready to get going with that when the timing is right.”
You’ve just dropped a suitably dark video for “Antagonist.” When writing new material, did you write with a visual aspect in mind?
Griffiths: “I don’t think we purposely have a visual aspect in mind when writing new material as the visual ideas often come after the tracks have been written. But I guess in some ways I always have some visuals going through my mind when writing, it’s just a bit more subconscious. I often acknowledge what imagery certain song ideas give me. I think the music in combination with the lyrics can invoke certain imagery to mind and that’s what often inspires our visuals.”
Sutherland: “When I’m writing riffs, I often do go from visual inspirations, but I’m not thinking about what videos the song might end up with, as such. I often look at old mythical and fantastical drawings and etchings of all sorts of creatures or landscapes to inspire: for some of the riffs in that song I was inspired by a favourite book of mine, The Impossible Zoo by Leo Ruickbie. It is an encyclopedia of loads of old and modern cryptids and mythical creatures, with wicked old drawings of a lot of them. I find it so inspirational to look through that book and think about a theme for some of the creatures in there. This was actually a big part of Shindy Reehal and I’s creative process for the ‘Guiltless’ animated video. I sent him a copy of the book because I think everyone should look through it at some point!”
The UK scene is a pretty exciting place to be in terms of heavy music with bands like Vexed, Pupil Slicer, and Heriot all pushing the boundaries of heavy music. What do you think Harbinger adds to the mix with A Letter To Anguish?
Griffiths: “Yeah, there’s so many great bands around at the moment, of all sizes. It’s a great time to be part of the UK scene. I think we bring a fresh taste of groove-filled riffing metal that takes you on an emotional journey. Harbinger has always been an amalgamation of lots of influences and inspirations and we like to write music that we’d like to hear. I think if I wasn’t in Harbinger, Harbinger would be my favourite band. We write music we enjoy.”
You’ve talked about wanting to record songs that would come alive when you played them live. Have you had the chance to do that yet?
Griffiths: “I reckon so. We’ve had a chance to play most of the new tracks live and they certainly get the crowd kicking! We always like to make sure we bring a tight, energetic and enthusiastic live show and I think these new tracks bring that to life.”
Sutherland: “Oh yes! There’s still one we haven’t played live at the time of writing this, which is ‘Antagonist.’ I can’t wait to give it its debut at Tech Fest! All the others are going down a treat mixed in with our old material: we played a bunch of new songs on our tour with Decapitated and even though tunes like ‘Guiltless’ may not have been what the Decapitated crowd expected, I loved playing them and think they went down great.”
In terms of going forward then, what are your plans for the rest of 2022?
Griffiths: “So we have UK Tech Fest coming up, and we love that festival. Such a great community and we get to headline the second stage this year so we’re getting prepared to bring a very special set to that. We then have a couple of other shows in the summer and a yet-to-be-announced headline tour this fall. We have some other shows being planned for the end of the year which we hope to get finalized and announced soon too. We very much hope we can get back out to Europe in not so long. Lots of planning and grafting going on behind the scenes. Going into 2023, we’ll be starting to plan our next release and getting the beginning stages rolling.”
Sutherland: “I’m looking forward to all the shows we have this year and getting back out to the mainland at Herrie Fest, which we haven’t had a chance to do since the pandemic! Besides that, I’m gearing up to get back into writing with the lads, and I can’t wait to hear what we’re going to cook up together coming off the back of ALTA.”
Thanks for your time and good luck with the EP. Over to you to wrap this up…
Griffiths: “Thanks so much for having us. Make sure everyone goes and has a listen to our new record A Letter To Anguish on their chosen platform, and go have a watch of all our new videos on our YouTube Channel. If you like what you see and hear then head to our website and check out our merch. Any merch sales help support and finance us as an independent band, so it means the world to us and is incredibly appreciated. Much love and riffs from all of us!”